The following is excerpted from recent speeches I gave at the Nebraskans for Peace annual conference in Lincoln, NE and the Chicago Area Peace Action annual dinner in Wilmette, IL.
Move the Money! From Endless War to a More Sustainable, Flowering Republic!
-by Kevin Martin
Peace Action’s Move the Money campaign is our most exciting work at this time. In my opinion, we have the best chance in a generation for serious cuts in the military budget. Our Move the Money campaign, at the national and local level, is a serious coalition and alliance building project, creating strong relationships with unions, human needs and economic and racial justice advocates,environmental and consumer groups, and local elected officials, who deal with the harm our out of control war spending has done to the national economy and to state and local budgets, among other constituencies.
Veteran peace activist Tom Hayden has a very good analytical tool he calls the Pillars of War, looking at constituencies or sectors of society that have perpetuated U.S. wars in the last decade. The news media, general public opinion, Republicans, Democrats (which need to be further divided into the party elite, those in Congress, and the party’s base) and corporate interests are key pillars to examine, especially in terms of leverage the peace movement may have in moving or, better yet, removing some of these pillars.
I would argue we have made significant headway pushing on some of these pillars (certainly public opinion and the Democratic base are now solidly anti-war, and we’ve made progress with Congressional Democrats and even the media to lesser degrees), but that perhaps the biggest impediment to ending the wars is corporate power, or the good old military-industrial-congrressional complex.
A recent example is the reaction of Lockheed Martin, the planet’s largest weapons contractor, to a proposed non-binding resolution in the Montgomery County, Maryland Council (just outside Washington, D.C., where both Lockheed and Peace Action’s national office are located). The resolution, pushed by our local Peace Action chapter, is simple, calling for an end to the wars and cutting military spending in order to fund jobs and human, community and environmental needs – a position supported by an overwhelming majority of the U.S. public.
Lockheed felt so threatened (evidently) by this non-binding county resolution that it called the governor, congressman (Chris van Hollen, to whom it had contributed $10,000 in the last campaign cycle) and county council president to scuttle the resolution. They succeeded in getting the resolution withdrawn, temporarily, but got a black-eye in the local media, including the usually reliably war-mongering Washington Post.
Frankly, Lockheed did us a favor in exposing the lengths to which it will go to stifle democracy (if the resolution had passed, we would have celebrated, but it would not have gotten an iota of the media coverage LM’s strong-arm tactics generated).
In this exciting year of the Arab Spring, Wisconsin and other state budget showdowns and Occupy Wall Street (and Omaha and Lincoln and Kansas City and Chicago and everywhere!) opportunities abound for peace activists to make common cause with allies demanding a more peaceful, just, democratic society.
In addition to the ongoing (such staying power!) Occupy movement, there is still time to demand the congressional “Super Committee” protect Social Security, Medicare and human needs programs and find their budget savings in the gargantuan ($1.2 trillion per year!) national security budget (there’s a link to the Super Committee on our home page at http://www.peace-action.org/).
Two important opportunities next year will be the NATO/G-8 Summit in Chicago, where they are linking the wars and the economy for us! Peace Action, along with local, national and international allies, will organize an educational conference and street actions demanding an end to NATO and U.S. war-making and a more just, equitable U.S. and global economy.
Finally, next year’s elections will present us an opportunity to press candidates for all levels of government to Move the Money from war and militarism to jobs, human and environmental needs. Our Peace Voter campaign will help give activists the tools to do that, from candidate briefings and endorsments, bird-dogging, voter guides, voter registration, education and Get out the Vote (GOTV) efforts. President Obama’s and the Democratic Party’s vulnerability (over 80% of registered Democrats want to end the wars) matches up very well with our strength in the peace movement’s grassroots base (not that we are all Democrats, we certainly are not, but we have many connections with grassroots Democratic activists and structures).
Ending the wars, cutting military spending, abolishing nuclear weapons and creating a more just society are all central to Peace Action’s mission, but so is recognizing and framing a larger vision of the historic moment we inhabit, and the opportunities it provides. I like the framework Norwegian peace studies expert Johann Galtung uses – the Decline of the U.S. Empire, and the Flowering of the U.S. Republic.
All empires have ended, all of them. It’s our job to help end the U.S. Empire as quickly and nonviolently as possible, and to use the resources freed up (a “peace dividend” if you will) to help empower people to create the flowering Republic – peaceful, equitable, sustainable and just — that comes following the Empire’s demise.
A few years ago a dinner table conversation with my children, now aged 17 and 13, revealed that they thought the United States is always at war. And why wouldn’t they think that, as it has certainly been the case for nearly all their lives (and frankly for the majority of our country’s history)? It’s unacceptable to me that children in this country, or in Iraq, Afghanistan, Gaza, Congo, Somalia or anywhere should have to live with that expectation, or even worse, that daily reality. For their futures, we cannot continue on the unsustainable path we are currently on. As the great pacifist A.J. Muste taught us, “There is no way to peace. Peace is the way.”
Kevin Martin is executive director of Peace Action, the country’s largest peace and disarmament organization with 100,000 members and nearly 100 affiliates and chapters around the U.S.